You sort of know you’re at a gig the same night as England are playing a World Cup game, when someone in an audience that is best described as “on the small side” asks “would you like to know they’ve scored a penalty?” In between songs. Felix Bechtolsheimer – the former Hey Negrita frontman who does that job here too – dedicates the next cut to Harry Kane, before deadpanning: “it’s about loose women and drug addiction….” Welcome to the dark world of Curse Of Lono. Americana – and you best believe that guitarist Joe Findlay is in fine blue-collar form on his Gretch tonight – but it is Americana with a pleasing, dark twist, and “Valentine” shows both those sides admirably. They are trying some different arrangements tonight, perhaps because of this, they play a new song, “Start A War” here that sees them move further away from their rootsy roots. The closing “Pick Up The Pieces (an US college radio hit) is proof that a great song translates however it’s played. Curse Of Lono are using this as a test for some acoustic shows with Steve Earle. They passed with top marks here, despite the obvious impediments from Russia.
It might be the fact that we are still having a gorgeous, warm summer in the Midlands. However as Tennessee’s – by way of LA – Cordovas start playing, there is a palpable content feel. Their harmony stacked guitars on top of their sweet as honey, harmony stacked vocals sound perfect. As the evening breeze comes through the patio doors, and the garden part of the Kitchen Garden Café glistens in the sunset, it is impossible to have any other mood.
You’d be annoyed at the others for missing it, except that you sort of feel a smugness of your own for being here, because this is truly an I was there type of gig.
Because for the 80 minutes or so that they’re on stage, playing songs from their debut and the out-next-month “Santa Fe Trail”, they are a throwback. Take, for example “Louisiana Hurricane”, which they sing acapella in places, it is the sound of those West Coast bands, like the Byrds and others, and indeed, this whole show has a wonderfully blissful mood.
You suspect they normally have a party, but circumstances dictate a more considered approach tonight, that’s not to say, though, that they wouldn’t be able to find some trouble if the need arose – the country nature of “Step Back Red” is your wake-up call for that.
Five, very obviously, gifted musicians, Cordovas are led by Joe Firstman (a one-time band leader for talk show host Carson Daly) but drummer Graham Spillman, who is superbly understated, keyboardist Sevans Henderson is a dynamo, and lead guitarists Lucca Soria and Toby Weaver, who have essentially perfected the twin harmony thing. The way they approach playing is strange. There are no real breaks and no chat (“we think it’s a bit too formal to have people clapping” offers Firstman at the end) and it feels very much as if a song breaks out sometimes around the guitar playing. “Frozen Rose” has a real jazz tinge to it, but the show finds an outstanding balance between the flashy brilliance and the need to write brilliant songs too.
To that end, “All I Found” – something like The Allman Brothers at their best – and the down-home perfection of “Southern Rain” are as good as it gets, “Standing On The Porch” is a touch more primal and blues flavoured, say, than the blissed out vibe of new single “This Town’s A Drag”, but whatever it does, it does with a touch of class.
The thought that this is a collective who could turn into a Grateful Dead style jam band at a second’s notice is never far away and the encore shows that perfectly. Firstman is at a piano solo for one, before the two guitarists and vocalists get to finish things with a glorious pair. “Sweet Home Chicago” and Hot Tuna’s “Hesitatin’ Blues” have barely ever sounded more right than here.
Before that Joe Firstman made a point that goes a long way to explaining the appeal of Cordovas. “I hope you know”, he’d said, “that it doesn’t matter how many were here, we played this like the biggest gig we’ve ever played”. That honesty will take them a long way, but these songs, man, these songs deserve to make them huge.